Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry, Fr. Mark O’Connell, and Susan Abbott
Today’s guest(s): Sr. Olga Yaqob, Servant Mother of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth
Today’s topics: Christmas Gospels and The Incarnation
Summary of today’s show: We prepare for Christmas as Scot Landry, Fr. Mark O’Connell, Susan Abbott, and Sr. Olga Yaqob consider the four different Gospel readings and reflect how each one illuminates a different message of Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ. Our panel then discusses the meaning of Christ being born as a baby in the most humble circumstances and then growing up in obscurity for 30 years in preparation for just 3 years of public ministry. Finally, they look at the first heralds of Christ, the humble shepherds who dropped everything to adore and then proclaim the Messiah, and encourage us all to take the opportunity this Christmas to make Christ our top priority and to proclaim him fearlessly and with enthusiasm.
1st segment: Scot said this is the last broadcast prior to Christmas and next week we’ll have a series of Best Of programs. Scot welcomed Sr. Olga to show.
Fr. Mark said he will be celebrating a vigil Mass on Saturday and then Sunday morning, but he’s celebrating midnight Mass for his parents in their home with his family. Susan will be celebrating with her family at her daughters’ home. Sr. Olga said her sisters will go to nursing homes and then feed the homeless and see the families of the young women. Scot said his family will travel on Christmas Eve to his brother’s parish, where Fr. Roger will celebrate Mass and then they will all have a Christmas Eve meal. On Christmas morning they will go to Mass at their home parish where his daughter sings in the choir. Scot said there are many who will also experience sadness on Christmas if they’ve lost a loved one recently and we will pray for them.
Scot said we will look at the Mass readings for Christmas and then reflect on the meaning of Christmas. At the end of the program, we will discuss some of our favorite Christmas hymns.
2nd segment: Scot said there are four different Christmas liturgies from which readings come. One is the vigil Mass, the midnight Mass, the Mass at dawn, and Mass during the day. We will hear the four Gospels. Fr. Mark points out that if someone goes to the same Mass every year they only hear one of these Gospels.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem
to see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
Scot said there’s so much richness in these readings and so many characters in these readings: infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds. He asked Fr. Mark to reflect. He said we have accounts from Matthew, Luke, and John, which shows the variety. The full version of Matthew has the complete lineage, placing Jesus in his historical context. Luke tells the story focusing on the shepherds, Jesus coming to common people. John has high language and his audience was both Jew and Greek.
Susan said in St. John what strikes her is that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome. There is so much darkness and division in the world today. In Paul we hear a lot about hope. We have to hang onto hope and she sees hope in this line of this Gospel.
Sr. Olga said she loves the Gospel of Luke and always wonder through the heart of Mary and Joseph how they felt in that moment when they first saw the birth of the Son of God. She wonders what happens in the heart of priests what happens when they first consecrate and it becomes the Son of God. For her, Incarnation is in the heart of the Christmas season. As a campus minister, she saw how the students would get excited when famous people came to campus. Do we pause and think about the special guest who we are celebrating this season. “Blessed be the Lord, the God os Israel, He has come to set his people free.” It is overwhelming to think about the beauty of the Incarnation.
Scot said what he didn’t fully appreciate growing up until he heard his brother preach about it a couple of years ago was what the setting was really like for Jesus. He was laid to sleep in a place where the animals ate from. It wasn’t a pleasant scene. Scot read from Fr. Roger’s homily.
Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Son of David, the one who will reign forever, is not born in a palace, but in rock-hewn animal stable. Rather than having a floor of marble, he had dirt. Instead of a throne or a princely crib, he was placed in a trough from which animals were accustomed to eat. Rather than being clothed in fine royal linens, he was wrapped in poor swaddling clothes. Rather than the perfumes and incense common to middle-eastern homes, he was surrounded by the smells of animals and what they leave behind. So often we can sentimentalize and romanticize the scene in Bethlehem by gazing at the gorgeous figurines in our beautiful Christmas crèches, but then we would miss the incredible humility of God, who divested himself of all majesty to be born in such poverty that by his poverty we might indeed become rich (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). Moreover, as we know, his birth was just the beginning of this shockingly humble life. He, through whom all things were made, would be hunted down by assassins while he still nursed, be an illegal immigrant in Egypt before he could walk, and a quiet boy, teenager and young simple carpenter in Nazareth until his hour had come. When his hour did come, he would take off his humble robes, cover himself with a towel and wash our feet. Then he would be betrayed by one of his closest followers, framed by the leaders of the people he had formed for centuries, be less wanted than the murderer Barabbas, and hammered to a Cross between two thieves by soldiers he had formed in their mothers’ wombs. As Archbishop Sheen used to say, he was born in a stranger’s cave and buried in a stranger’s grave.
Jesus’ life was one of tremendous embarrassment and the homily goes on to explain why God took on such humility. This was His choice. Pope Benedict talked a few years ago why St. Francis created the living creche so that we could visually come to terms what it must have been like on that Christmas morning. Fr. Roger’s homily is very strong in its imagery. This is how the shepherds saw him.
Fr. Mark said St. John couldn’t show that poverty. It was high language and people who come to Mass only on Christmas Day don’t get the sights and sounds of the stable. John was speaking to the Greeks and the Jews and beautifully speaks to them with the Word. All Jews have respect for the Word. All Jews would know of the power of God’s Word throughout history. The Greeks had the same idea of Logos, a divine word. John could bring them both into the story. We go into the heavens with John and come down the stable with Luke.
Susan said the tension and balance of these readings is that they are so familiar, which can give comfort, but we can also take them for granted. She encourages people to pick a word or a phrase and then put yourself into the scene, using your imagination of what you see, hear, taste, and touch. Who are the characters? If I were there, who would I be?
Sr. Olga said she always prays and ask for the grace to be with the shepherds. It’s amazing they were chosen to be the first to see the newborn Savior. She prays to be able to see him through their eyes. As we read in the Scripture, it was at night. We get so busy and noisy and crowded that there is no time to pause and reflect on that silent night to hear with the shepherd to hear and see the signs.
Fr. Mark has preached in the past on his favorite rendition of Matthew’s Gospel on Christmas. When he was a seminarian, he was assigned as a chaplain to St. Elizabeth’s hospital. On a hot day in July, he was told to speak to an old man in his bed. He was so still at first he though the man was dead. He asked Fr. Mark to read the story of the birth of Jesus. He had to scream the story of Jesus’ birth to the nearly deaf man on a hot day in July. His homily is that there’s something about this story that it needs to be screamed from the rooftops. Susan said it is indeed Good News to be proclaimed.
Scot said he thinks of the angels telling the shepherds, Do not be afraid. The shepherds then dropped everything they were doing. They made it their top priority to visit Jesus, even leaving behind their flocks. They were prepared for the Messiah, but perhaps not for a child born in a manger. They took this gift of being the first witnesses and went out and witnessed to others. Those they encountered were amazed, not just by the story, but by their great enthusiasm.
How are we the shepherds today? We should have the same priority as the shepherds to encounter Christ at Christmas and then proclaim it to everyone. What will be our conversation at Christmas dinner? Will we talk about the NBA season or about Christ?
3rd segment: Scot said the Sr. Olga that one of her favorite topics to speak about is the Incarnation and she spoke at the WQOM conference on being missionaries of the Incarnation. Christmas is often misunderstood that we are just celebrating the birth of the Savior. Sr. Olga said we can’t just stop at celebrating the birth of someone who came 2000 years ago. Christ came to reconcile us to himself, to redeem us, to free us. He came for each one of us. If we don’t take this message of Incarnation beyond just celebrating the birthday of the Lord, we are missing the mission of the Messiah. We have to take Christmas to examine how much his coming to the world to dwell among us has changed us, to be redeemed and live in the heart of the Word? How am I changed spiritually? We have to examine our personal journey with the Lord? And what am I doing with this changed in me caused by this personal journey? For those for whom Christmas is a time of sadness because of broken relationships or death or poverty, the message of the Incarnation is that you are still loved, whether you are in prison, a nursing home, a hospital, a shelter or a big cathedral, it’s the same God, the same Love who came to dwell with us.
Scot said his kids ask great questions and he often responds, “Because can do whatever he wants.” But they ask why Jesus came into the world as a baby and why did he live for 30 of his 33 years doing ordinary things? He chose this way. Scot said one reason may be that our response to babies brings out the best in us. Even a crying baby makes us want to pick him up and comfort him. He chose to take on human flesh in this way and what is our response? We should have a response to Christ as a new baby entering our home. If a new baby came to our homes this Christmas, we would gather around and appreciate him. This encourages us to appreciate all that God brings to us and treat him with the same love and attention as a new baby.
Fr. Mark said during those 30 years Jesus saw the lilies of the field, he observed the shepherds, he watched the sparrows, learned how to work, to share in our lives. Jesus born as a baby and growing up with a mother and father is a gift of God that he truly became man. He didn’t just take on human appearance.
Susan said she has a piece of art in a Christmas card. It’s set in a city and shows a woman in a window of an apartment building, waving at a truck pulling up outside which says on the outside, “Joseph and Sons Carpenters”. Jesus was a little boy who grew up with his parents. His mother taught him his prayers and he lived an ordinary life and by doing that he lifts up our ordinary lives and makes them holy.
Scot said not only does he take on our flesh, remaining fully human and fully divine, he also raises us up to communion with God in our flesh. It shows us the way and helps connect us in a deeper way with God.
Sr. Olga said when she hears people say they believe in God but have been away from church for awhile and it’s impossible to go back now, she says just go and read the nativity and reflect on the way he came. It’s a sign that I am your God and I am the God of the second chance. He spoke through many signs and miracles and prophets and people walked away from him so he came as a man in an impossible way—virgin birth as a baby among animals—to make us his children. Because of him who reconciled us to himself, he allowed us to call God our father. For anyone who’s been away for any reason, it’s a great opportunity to come back.
Fr. Mark said we have an opportunity this Christmas to start conversations at Mass because of the new Missal. Instead of staring at the person next to you in the pew and being annoyed that they don’t know the right words. We could turn to the people next to us before Mass and introduce them to the new prayers in a pew card or missal. Someone can get a positive experience of being helped and welcomed.
Scot said in Pope John Paul II’s last Christmas homily, he wanted to draw the specific connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist, which is Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation to us. Our churches swell at Christmas. It’s wonderful all these people are here and let’s pray us that they stay with us. Or there’s the resentful attitude when you can’t get a seat in church and there’s so much traffic. Let us all pray that those who come to Mass because of the human interaction they encounter. It’s important we approach everyone who comes with the same love as we would approach the newborn savior.
Sr. Olga said we become what we eat. If God dwells among us, we have the opportunity to receive this God who became human every day if we choose. We can become one with the person who came to be one with us, to be his love, mercy, and kindness in every place we go. This is living the mission of the Incarnation. As we each experience this Christmas season, we have to take this impossible way of loving to the people around us. The most difficult thing that has torn humanity apart is anger. We need to reflect on reconciliation. He came to reconcile us to himself and if that is Jesus’ main purpose, then we need to reflect on areas we need to reconcile with in ourselves and with others. This is the heart of Christmas.
4th segment: A roundup of everyone’s favorite Christmas hymns. Rick Heil’s favorite Christmas hymn os “Silent Night”. Fr. Mark’s is “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” Susan’s is Handel’s “Messiah”, even though its an Easter song, but have parts related to the nativity. Sr. Olga’s favorite is “Joy to the World”, because nothing else brings us joy than that God came to love us. Scot’s is “O Holy Night”, because it begins softly and ramps up the emotion.